Overwatch on Switch was a dream come true. Then Blizzard abandoned its values

Overwatch is finally available on the Nintendo Switch. Dreams of raising your Skill Rank during a long commute, or jumping into quick play at lunch, are now possible. It’s an occasion that’s good reason to celebrate.

Yet I can’t let myself hit the dance emote. What transpired last week not only went against the company’s own values, and makes the stories in its games — especially Overwatch —  feel meaningless.

On October 8th, a post on the Hearthstone blog detailed the suspension of professional Hearthstone player Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai, and the termination of two casters. The post went up following a livestream interview where he called for the liberation of Hong Kong. Blitzchung was removed from Hearthstone Grandmasters, banned from participating for a year, and stripped of his $3,000 prize.

Hearthstone player Chung Ng Wai
Hearthstone player Chung Ng Wai

The punishment was unnecessarily harsh, leading the community to believe Blizzard’s business ties with China played a role. The decision was met with massive backlash.

Blizzard has mostly backpedaled on its decision, reducing Chung’s suspension to six months and giving him the prize money. But the stain from Blizzard’s public indiscretion remains, and is made only more ugly by the statement from the president that followed.

The letter seems insincere. Not only did it arrive four days too late, but the reasons used to justify Blizzard’s actions conflict with the messages of freedom and unity that Blizzard games promote.

Heroes never die! Unless…

overwatch deathmatch guide mercy image

Many of Blizzard’s franchises contain the theme of good versus evil, and they lean heavy into the good. Overwatch is one of those games, and it’s one of my favorites.

With a diverse cast of heroes from countries all over the world, its story is similar to that of World of Warcraft. Once again, power-hungry and violent forces stand in the way of world peace. There’s more to it than that, but that’s the basics.

While the story isn’t the focus of the game, the lore gives much-needed context about the heroes. It’s the reason I drop everything I’m doing to watch any new Overwatch trailer the moment it comes out. And it’s why you might feel justified in going out of your way to take down a Widowmaker or Doomfist.

Even if you aren’t familiar with each character’s origin story, Blizzard makes sure their personalities clearly convey the type of person they are.

Mercy and Reinhardt are beacons of hope, voicing lines like “I’ve got you!” and “Don’t worry my friends, I am your shield!” These in-game interactionsm set the tone, which is usually one of perseverance. Hope.

On the opposite end, we have heroes like Reaper and Widowmaker. Reaper shouts, “Die, Die, Die!” while executing his ultimate ability. Widowmaker, while waiting for the match to start, casually announces to her team, “I’m ready to kill.” Their villainous intent is not discrete.

These caricature-like depictions of good and evil are frivolous, but already the themes of Overwatch become clear. It’s a world where good and evil exist. Actions matter. And that’s only the start.

That fighting spirit

Overwatch lore does nothing to dictate the gameplay, but it does attract a community that embraces the things they stand for. The lore is where the basic concepts of good vs. evil expand to embrace values like freedom and diversity.

Hana Song, also known as D.Va, is a mech-wielding gamer girl hailing from South Korea. In her origin story, we see her defend her homeland from an Omnic attack, putting herself in harm’s way for her people.

If you loved her before, her story was just the cherry on top. It’s no wonder she became the face of a feminist movement in South Korea promoting the fair treatment of women who play video games. Blizzard helped inspire that.

Much of Overwatch’s lore can be read in comics and short stories. That’s where you’ll learn more about the heroes, including their romantic interests.

Both Tracer and Soldier 76 were confirmed as queer in an Overwatch comic and short story. This sent the game’s large LGBTQIA community into an excited frenzy.

Even Mei, the adorable from China, has become a symbol of the Hong Kong protests.

Games with LGBTQIA representation doesn’t happen often. It was a huge win for the community that will likely inspire more diverse character portrayals in the future.

Even Mei, the adorable from China, has become a symbol of the Hong Kong protests.

These are the heroes Blizzard gave its players. They make it clear the voices of oppressed and marginalized people matter. A large part of the community that Overwatch attracts believes that to be true.

Blizzard’s values include mantras like “Every voice matters” and “Think globally.” Blizzard explains that the company is what it is today because of the voice of its players.

That wasn’t reflected in the actions taken against Blitzchung. Blizzard silenced the voice of a player. They did not support him. And they surely did not respect the current state of his country and how it’s impacting the people that live there.

My love for Overwatch extends past its addictive gameplay loop. The characters, locations, and the stories they tell play a large role. I want to celebrate the release of Overwatch on the Nintendo Switch. It’s a dream combination; my favorite game meets my favorite platform.

But the punishment of Blitzchung shattered that dream. If Blizzard doesn’t stand by its own values, then the worlds and the characters they built — and I love — become an empty shell.

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